Zairian authorities reopened a border crossing from Rwanda on Sunday after angry Rwandans stormed another closed crossing and clashed with troops who beat them back with canes and sticks.
The refugees overwhelmed Ethiopian U.N. peacekeepers and tried to charge across the closed bridge at the southern end of Lake Kivu. Zairian paratroopers responded by firing in the air with machine guns, relief officials said.Reacting to the chaos and mounting U.N. pressure, Zaire later reopened a larger bridge six miles to the south. Relief workers said moving refugees southward would spread them out and diffuse tensions at the bridge where the riot occurred.
But efforts to move the refugees to the reopened bridge were mired in chaos. By nightfall, only a handful of Rwandans had crossed into Zaire.
Zaire abruptly closed the border Saturday, worried the flow of refugees was out of control and the buildup of up to a 100,000 or more in squalid squatter camps in Bukavu could cause epidemics.
Refugees were fleeing toward Bukavu ahead of Monday's deadline for French troops to withdraw from a safe area they established in Rwanda in June. The Rwandans don't trust U.N. peacekeepers replacing the French to protect them.
The refugees are mostly ethnic Hutus who fled Rwanda, fearing Tutsi revenge for massacres in Rwanda's 14-week civil war. Up to 500,000 people were slaughtered, mostly minority Tutsis killed by Hutu soldiers and militiamen.
The exodus has led to fears of a repeat of the refugee crisis in Goma, where nearly 1 million Rwandans poured across the border in three days last month. Some 43,000 died of malnutrition, cholera, dysentery and other diseases.
The military leader who engineered the Tutsi victory said Sunday that his forces would enter the former French zone if U.N. peacekeepers there fail to suppress soldiers from the defeated Hutu government.
If the U.N. troops maintain control, Rwandan Vice President and Defense Minister Paul Kagame said his troops would not enter the area until stability is restored.
Militiamen responsible for most of the slaughter are still operating inside Rwanda, and must be punished, he said.
He promised, as he has in the past, that there would be no systematic retribution against Hutus, but acknowledged that some members of his Rwandan Patriotic Front have carried out individual acts of vengeance.